At the conclusion of the trial, the judge or jury will render a
decision on whether the defendant owes the plaintiff money. In a
judgment, the defendant owes the plaintiff no money. For a certain period, the
judgment may be appealed. If it is not appealed or if the court rejects the
appeal, the judgment becomes payable. In some situations, the judgment is
apportioned into periodic payments, but in most cases the full value of the
judgment is due in cash.
The judgment entered in a case is final unless an affected party can convince
the appeals court that it should be reversed or modified because of legal
errors. A common request is that a large judgment be reduced (
being unsupported by the facts. In most states, the judge who tried the case
has the right to order that the plaintiff take less money than the jury has
awarded. If the plaintiff refuses, the judge can order that the case be retried.
When a case is accepted for review by a higher court, the attorneys prepare
detailed legal analyses of the alleged errors in the case. They must also
provide the appeals court with a transcript of some or all of the trial testimony.
This transcript can cost $10,000 or more, making an appeal an expensive
proposition. The losing party must usually post a bond in the amount of the
verdict. In some cases, the defendant cannot get such a bond and thus cannot
appeal the case. Appeals also take time—usually two or more years. For these
reasons, plaintiffs often agree to settle a case for less than the jury award if
the case is accepted for appeal.
If the defendant does not pay the judgment, the plaintiff may levy on (have the
sheriff seize) such of the defendant’s property as is necessary to pay the
judgment. What may be seized is a matter of state law. In addition, in some
states, the plaintiff may be able to attach a part of the defendant’s earnings to
pay the judgment. If the defendant is unable to pay the judgment he or she
may declare bankruptcy. In this event, the bankruptcy court apportions the
defendant’s nonexempt assets (those subject to sale to pay creditors) as
determined by state and federal law. When the bankruptcy is complete, tort
judgments are usually discharged. Bankruptcy is a harsh remedy, but it
provides the ultimate control over tort judgments.